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New Zealand: vineyard hopping at the best wineries in Blenheim

by Flitter Fever
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Being a notorious white wine lover, Marlborough was obviously high on my to-do-list for my second trip to New Zealand. Marlborough is New Zealand’s Premier Wine Region that produces many award winning wines. Blenheim is the heart of this region. Hello Sauvignon Blanc Paradise! With so many great names yet limited time, tough decisions have to be made. Seven fantastic wineries in Blenheim you should visit.

Sipping wine at gorgeous vineyards on a sunny day – not much makes me happier.

Arriving at the tiny Blenheim airport on a hot Saturday afternoon. The plane practically lands between the grape bushes. My suitcase filled with pants and long sleeve shirts. What was I thinking?! Somehow I did not expect an early January day on the South Island of New Zealand to feel like Spain in June. 37 degrees Celsius slamming on my face like a warm blanket, wow! Maybe even a bit too hot to ride a bicycle along the vineyards? Oh well, the sky is blue, the sun is shining, heading my way towards the refreshing pool of our accommodation, I cannot complain!

This may sound crazy, but Marlborough was a main reason for me to revisit New Zealand.

Saint Clair Family Estate

With a World’s Top 10 Chardonnay and prestigious World Producer of the Year Award (2012, 2017) in the pocket, Saint Clair cannot be missed. There are 8 different SC vineyards, but the Vineyard Kitchen is the place to be.

Fortunately we could get a late lunch spot for Sunday afternoon. What a fantastic time we had, sitting right between the vineyards, a parasol protecting us from the sun. Sigh. These are the days to really enjoy life. Delicious fresh pasta with chicken, damn this chef knows how to cook!

The waitress noticed me staring at the wine menu, trying to figure out which one to pick first. Gladly she told me to go up to the wine counter and taste as many wines as I liked. You only got to tell me once! Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner… I tried them all!

Finally I chose…

Tom must have started to get worried where I went, as I stayed away so long tasting all the wines inside haha Finally, I picked my favorite: Saint Clair Barrique Sauvignon Blanc 2016, a cellar door exclusive. A very distinctive and unique wine, tasting like a yellow floral Chardonnay with a crispy twist. I love it!

Saint Clair Family Estate – Vineyard Kitchen
13 Selmes Road, Rapaura, Blenheim
Open daily 09:00-17:00h
Lunch 11:30-15:00h
Afternoon menu 15:00-16:00h
saintclair.co.nz

Tip: Make lunch reservations in time, especially for weekends and holiday season.

Rock Ferry Wines

Rock ferry is one of the relatively smaller and younger wineries, born from the wish to create wine and food that respects nature and is true to its origins. Since 2005, Rock Ferry Wineries produce many lovely wines called 3rd Rock, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also a sparkling brut.

Rock Ferry has a lovely café with indoor and outdoor seating. Smoked paprika chicken with harissa quinoa and almonds, Aoraki salmon with roasted red pepper and baby carrots… the menu is mouthwatering. Enjoy!

Rock Ferry Wines
80 Hammerichs Road, Blenheim
Open daily 10:00-16:30h
Lunch 11:30-15:00h
rockferry.co.nz

I prefer purchasing wine without any fuss, straight from the honest producer’s cellar door.

Cloudy Bay

The fact that Cloudy Bay is not located at a gorgeous bay may be disappointing to hear. However, a visit to Cloudy Bay will not disappoint at all. What a wonderful place! A big green lawn with a few comfy chairs hanging in the big trees, surrounded by vineyards. And many delicious wines to choose from.

We believe that to understand our wine, you need to understand our places and meet the people behind the scenes. [Cloudy Bay]

At Cloudy Bay you can do whatever you want (and afford): try just a glass (drivers), a full wine tasting experience, a tour by foot or helicopter (NZ$2200), lunch at the vineyard or on a sailing yacht (NZ$2900), etc. Or ‘Forage’, the 2-day Ultimate Cloudy Bay Experience. The possibilities are endless at Cloudy Bay. My budget is not. I simply enjoyed a glass of cold Te Koko in the garden, rocking my tree chair. Very satisfying indeed.

Cloudy Bay – Jack’s Raw Bar
Marlborough Cellar Door
230 Jacksons Road, Blenheim
Open daily 10:00-16:00h
Lunch 10:00-15:30h
cloudybay.co.nz

Allan Scott Family Winemakers

Cloudy Bay’s neighbor across the street is a nice place to make another stop to taste some wine and a cup of coffee in the sheltered courtyard or by the fire. A visit to the cellar door is the perfect opportunity to purchase Allan Scott cellar door exclusives, like Eli Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and limited releases like Late Harvest Riesling. Try the Seafood Chowder for lunch. A great wedding location too!

Allan Scott Twelve Trees Vineyard
229 Jacksons Rd, Rapaura, Blenheim
Open daily 09:00-16:30h incl. lunch
allanscott.com

Wither Hills

Around since 1994, Wither Hills build up its name with a passion to craft the very best wine from Marlborough’s beautiful natural surroundings. Accessible and tasty are the two key words what come to my mind when thinking of Wither Hills’ wines. The steps up to the Mediterranean styled cellar door gets rewarded by overlooking the beautiful Wairau Valley.

Enjoy a wine tasting and/or lunch at Wither Hills. Risotto, lamb, pappardelle, caprese or duck salad… Plenty of delicious choices on the menu here. Several Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, Rosé, and oh try the dessert wine too! For those who do not like wine, there is even beer. Cheers!

Wither Hills
211 New Renwick Rd, Burleigh, Blenheim
Open daily 10:00-16:30h incl. lunch
witherhills.co.nz

 Locals pronounce Blenheim as “Blenhem”, ignoring the “i”.

Giesen

No wine around the world that tastes like Marlborough wine. “Balance, purity and intense flavor set around impressive aroma, distinctive fruit and appealing balanced acidity is unrivalled.” says Giesen, one of the most famous and successful wine producers in the Wairau Valley. Climate is essential to the character of Marlborough wines, and so is the soil. As a consequence, the grapes taste different than anywhere else I have ever tasted. I love these kind of places, standing out by character.

The three Giesen brothers have been creating great wines that people love to drink since 1981. With six different wine collections, Giesen built up a respectable portfolio. A colleague of mine has a Kiwi uncle that is contracted to produce grapes for Giesen wines. Luckily she gave me several tips before getting to Blenheim. I love the Lifestyle Range of Giesen, of which I hold a bottle of in the photo below.

Giesen
26 Rapaura Rd, RD3, Blenheim
Open daily 10:30-16:30hm incl. lunch
giesen.co.nz

Brancott Estate

To me, Brancott is a very typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with that distinctive, crispy, dry taste. Not the easiest to drink but I like it; I regularly have a bottle in the fridge at home. Brancott is a large, successful brand known around the world. There is even a street in Blenheim that is named after Brancott! How cool is it to visit their home base for real?!

Flight is one of the seven series that Brancott offers; full-flavored wines that are naturally lighter in alcohol, including also rosé and sparkling editions. Ideal for wine tasting! Some examples of things to do at Brancott Estate:

  • Mastery of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 45 min $18 pp
  • Living Land Falcon Encounter & tasting 60 min $40 pp
  • Premium Wine Tasting 30 min $6-16 pp
  • Vineyard Cycle Tour 75 min $35 pp
  • Helicopter Flight & Educational Wine Tasting 60 min $265 pp
  • Lunch $13-33 per dish + wine

Brancott Estate Wines
180 Brancott Road, Fairhall, Blenheim
Open daily 10:00-16:30h
Lunch 11.30-15:00h
brancottestate.com

Blenheim vs. Stellenbosch

So far, my best vineyard experience was in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Going from one fantastic winery to another, all in a beautiful countryside setting with glorious vineyards, velvet red roses, gorgeous white houses, green mowed lawns… And oh yes, delicious wines! Without a doubt one of the best days of my life. I must say: Blenheim is a serious competitor. What a dreamlike place to spend some time relaxing, sipping amazing wines. Why can’t all days be like this?!

List of wineries in Blenheim

I hope this article will help you to choose which wineries in Blenheim you would like to visit. Obviously there are more than mentioned above. Below a list, with the 10 main wineries highlighted.

[one-third-first]Allan Scott
Auntsfield Estate
Bladen Wines
Brancott Estate
Clos Henri Vineyard
Cloudy Bay Vineyards
Forrest Wines
Framingham Wines
Fromm Winery
Gibson Bridge Vineyard
Giesen Wines
Hans Herzog Estate[/one-third-first]

[one-third]Highfield Terravin
Huia
Hunter’s Wines
Jackson Estate
Johanneshof Cellars
Lawson’s Dry Hills
Mount Riley Wines
Nautilus Estate
No. 1 Family Estate
Omaka Spring Estates
Rock ferry Wines
Saint Clair Vineyard Kitchen[/one-third]

[one-third]Seresin Estate
Spy Valley Wines
Sugar Loaf Wines
Te Whare Ra Vineyard & Winery
Villa Maria Estate
Wairau River Wines
White Haven Wines
Winos
Wither Hills Winery
Yealands Estate[/one-third]

Although Blenheim is the heart of the Marlborough wine region, of course there are also wineries outside of Blenheim. For a full list of wineries in Marlborough, check this site.

Dinner in Blenheim

All wineries in Blenheim close around 17:00h. This means no dinner options there, which is an absolute pity. For dinner, there are some nice restaurants in Blenheim. Completely different atmosphere compared to the vineyards, but you have to eat something after so much wine, right?!

My Blenheim dinner restaurant suggestions:

How to get around

You will see most people driving around from vineyard to vineyard in Blenheim by car or camper. Depending on the weather and distance, you could rent a bike to go around the wineries or take a guided tour that will drive you around.

Wine tasting tours

Would you like to join a group and/or enjoy the expertise of a (private) guide? Prefer to be driven around so you do not need to worry about driving around yourself? See a nice selection of excellent wineries on one day? Consider one of these great Marlborough wine tasting tours.

When and how long to go to Blenheim

I would suggest spending at least one, preferably two or three nights in Blenheim. Possibly as a day trip from Picton if that is where you are staying, but that would be a bit rushed. Blenheim is also a great location for romantic getaways, honeymooners and weddings!

Spring and summer are of course a good time to hang around vineyards, but autumn and winter have their benefits too. Basically the area provides something for every season. In winter time less cellar doors will be open though. Check in advance the availability of places you would like to visit.

Especially around weekends, national holidays and summer vacation I strongly suggest to make lunch reservations at least a few days in advance. Take into account that on certain holidays, cellar doors and restaurants in Blenheim may be closed (such as Christmas) or open later in the day (such as ANZAC Day).

Where to stay in Blenheim

There are so many fantastic wineries to visit and you can only have lunch and no dinner at the wineries in Blenheim. Consequently, I’d suggest to make the most out of the limited opening hours by spending the night at the village.

The Marlborough Lodge

What a gorgeous place The Marlborough Lodge is! You enter the 16 acre property via security gate. Outdoor pool, chapel, garden, terrace… As a non-hotel guest it is also possible to have lunch or dinner here, just make sure you make a reservation in time. Perfect wedding location too!

The Peppertree

What’s not to love about the The Peppertree?! This luxury accommodation is obviously not the cheapest but you get a lot in return. OMG that wisteria! Such great atmosphere, décor and service. Book it if you have got the chance.

Notting Hill B&B

If you prefer the personal service and coziness of a Bed & Breakfast run by passionate Kiwis, and looking for accommodation near several excellent wineries, Notting Hill B&B is your perfect place to stay. No pool but a shared garden/terrace and fantastic breakfast!

Middle Park Motel

The Middle Park Motel is the ideal mid-price range place to stay in Blenheim. Close to several wineries, with parking in front of your room, swimming pool, bicycles, friendly staff and rooms that were renovated just 3 months ago. And the best of all: a fair, affordable price!

How to get to Blenheim

Blenheim’s Woodbourne airport (BHE) is small yet includes car rental and is located just a few minutes’ drive from the wineries. I love those tiny airports; it is so easy and fast, you go in and out within no time! Check Skyscanner for flight possibilities and ticket prices to Blenheim.

Another option to get to Blenheim is to take the InterIslander ferry from Wellington to Picton. The ferry ride costs app. EUR 40 excl. car or camper and takes app. 3.5 hours.

Do know that many car rentals do not allow the rental car to go on board the ferry between North and South Island. This means you will have to drop off the first rental car in Wellington and pick up a new rental car in Picton (or the other way around, depending on your travel route). In that case, make sure you catch the ferry of 12:00h to be able to pick up a new rental car before the offices in Picton close. That is why, coming all the way from Turangi (near lake Taupo) at Tongariro Crossing, we chose to fly from Napier to Blenheim instead of driving all the way to Wellington first to catch the ferry.

Distances:

  • Picton – Blenheim 30 km 25min
  • Kaikoura – Blenheim 130 km 1h 45min
  • Christchurch – Blenheim 310 km 4.5h
  • Blenheim – Nelson 115 km 1.5h
  • Blenheim – Marahau Abel Tasman NP 180 km 2.5h

For car rental I prefer booking with Sunny Cars since its budget friendly yet all-inclusive, meaning great insurance coverage and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off of the car.

Camper

Renting a camper is a great way to get around New Zealand which many people dream about. However, comparing camper quotes and finding the best deal can be a bit of a nightmare. WorldWideCampers.com makes our lives more easy. Available in English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian and French.

Bus

For backpackers, bus is the best way to get around NZ. I would suggest Stray or Kiwi Experience.

Supermarket wine

Once we got out of the airport in Blenheim, we first made a quick stopover to get some groceries at a huge supermarket along State Highway number 6. It looked-like a DIY store to me, but apparently it was actually a supermarket. When I noticed the wine collection, my heart skipped a beat. The shelves packed with the most amazing regional wines. Yah!

Started to recognize already some of the brands we had on the North Island. So cool to be finally there, the cradle of Marlborough wine! Realizing I would love to but really cannot take all of them home with me… Double-O-Behave, I whispered to myself. And Oh My God, choice stress! 

NZ wine prices in supermarkets and liquor stores start around NZ$11 per bottle.          

Marlborough is THE wine region of New Zealand, but grapes are grown and wine is produced all over New Zealand. Hawke’s Bay around Napier (North Island) and Cromwell near Queenstown (South Island) are the runner-ups. I will write about Cromwell, known especially for Pinot Noir, in a future blog post.

Marlborough Sounds & Picton

It is a good idea to combine Blenheim with Picton and the Marlborough Sounds. Sounds are a bit like fjords in Norway. You can spot seals, all kinds of birds and – if lucky – penguins and dolphins! Take a guided boat or kayak tour and visit Motuara Island by foot for an awesome view.

If you have got more time in the Marlborough Sounds area, walk the Queen Charlotte Track.

Looking for more travel inspiration and tips for New Zealand? Check out the New Zealand Blog Post Archive.

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